Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Robertson, James Craigie
ROBERTSON, JAMES CRAIGIE (1813–1882), canon of Canterbury, and author of the ‘History of the Christian Church,’ was born in 1813 at Aberdeen, where his father was a merchant. His mother's maiden name was Craigie. His early education was gained chiefly at the Udny academy, though, owing to his mother's frequent migrations, he is said to have been at twelve other schools. His father was a presbyterian, but his mother's family was episcopalian. He studied for a time for the Scottish bar, but having resolved upon ordination in the church of England, he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1831, and graduated B.A. in 1834, and M.A. in 1838. He did not attempt to take honours, feeling that his early education was insufficient; but he spent his vacations in Germany, and became well acquainted with the German language and literature. He was ordained in 1836. While still a curate he wrote a book entitled ‘How shall we conform to the Liturgy?’ (1843, 3rd edit. 1869), which attracted considerable notice. It showed the impossibility of a literal compliance with all the rubrics, and the consequent need of tolerance and elasticity. After serving two curacies Robertson was instituted in 1846 to the vicarage of Bekesbourne, near Canterbury. There he largely devoted himself to literary work, concentrating his attention on historical research. In 1849 he edited Heylyn's ‘History of the Reformation.’ In 1850 he wrote on the Gorham case, translated ‘Olshausen on the Romans,’ and began his ‘Church History,’ his most important work; volume i. appeared in 1852, and volume iv., bringing the narrative to the Reformation, in 1873. A revised edition (in 8 vols.), entitled ‘History of the Christian Church from the Apostolic Age to the Reformation,’ was issued in 1874–5. Other works of value in a like direction included ‘Sketches of Church History,’ for the Christian Knowledge Society (pt. i. 1855, pt. ii. 1878); ‘Becket: a Biography’ (1859); and ‘Plain Lectures on the Growth of the Papal Power’ (1876). He also edited ‘Bargrave's Alexander VII and the College of Cardinals’ (Camden Soc. 1866), and for the Master of the Rolls ‘Materials for the History of Archbishop Thomas Becket’ (vol. i. 1875, vol. vi. 1882); the last volume was completed after Robertson's death by his coadjutor, Dr. J. Brigstocke Sheppard.
In 1859 Robertson was made canon of Canterbury, and from 1864 to 1874 was professor of ecclesiastical history at King's College, London. In 1864 he was elected a member of the Athenæum Club as ‘a person eminent in literature.’ Pressure of literary work, combined with the grief caused in 1877 by the death of a son, told upon him severely. He died at Canterbury on 9 July 1882, while anxiously endeavouring to complete and index the last volume of his ‘Memorials of Becket.’ He married in 1839 the sister of his college friend, Richard Stevenson, fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, and had a large family.
Robertson was a man of great learning, and had a power of using it judiciously. His works are marked by solidity and trustworthiness rather than by the brightness of temperament and brilliance as a conversationalist which distinguished him in social life. He numbered among his intimate friends William MacPherson, editor of the ‘Quarterly Review;’ John Murray the publisher (third of the name); Dean Stanley; Alexander Dyce, the Shakespearean scholar; and he was well and long acquainted with Tennyson. Besides his other work, he was a learned contributor to the 'Quarterly Review.' He took much interest in the cathedral library at Canterbury, prompted the erection of the building which now contains it, and rearranged the catalogue. He was ecclesiastically a moderate high churchman, but his historical knowledge made him condemn ultra-ritualism, and brought him, in such matters, into accord with Bishop Thirlwall and Dean Stanley.